(Kingston) They were believed to be extinct, having disappeared for more than five centuries. This is apparently not the case.
In Jamaica, the Tainos are few in number, but still alive. And they would like to have their place in the country’s next constitution.
At a time when the country is thinking of getting rid of the king to become a republic (see our file on Thursday), these Aboriginal people want to be heard. Defend their rights, their lands and their practices. But there is a long way from the cut to the lips.
“The government doesn’t know what to do with us,” hissed Robert Pairman, alias Kalaan Nibonrix, chief of the Jamaican Taino nation.
We expected to meet him in the mountains, in the heart of the country. Instead, he gives us an appointment at a Starbucks in Kingston. Robert Pairman took a break from work (he works in the electronic signage industry) to explain to us the issues and demands of his people, as Jamaica reconsiders its future.
The voice is soft, the tone calm, the words intelligent. Which perhaps explains why the elders of his community appointed him as leader and spokesperson, despite his early thirties.
Like many indigenous peoples, the Taïnos, a West Indian branch of the Arawak people, were among the first victims of colonization. When Jamaica was conquered by the Spanish in the late 15th century, almost all of its population was wiped out, largely due to diseases imported by Europeans.
The great Jamaican narrative has since considered the Taïnos as a vanished people whose rare traces only remain in the Maroon community, descendants of runaway slaves, in which they would have melted over time.
In a report submitted last year to the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD), the Jamaican government claimed that the Taino culture existed, but not its people.
However, this is totally false, insists Robert Pairman.
This relatively recent information encouraged the resurgence of the Taino nation and its desire to exist on the Jamaican ethnographic map.
According to the cacique, there are currently 23 families, or about 2,000 people in Jamaica, who identify with the Taino nation. That’s not a lot, out of a population of 3 million.
“In fact, there would be three times more,” adds Robert Pairman. But not everyone claims it. For what ? For fear of being ridiculed. Our national novel has told so much that we no longer exist that those who appear as such are not always taken seriously. We need to rekindle our pride. »
Along with the Rastafarians and the Maroons, the Tainos are currently under the control of a catch-all ministry, which oversees culture, gender, entertainment and sport.
This shows the very relative importance given by the Jamaican government to the indigenous reality. And it is to understand why Robert Pairman wants to take advantage of the great debate around Jamaican identity to advance the cause of his people.
As the country thinks of getting rid of the constitutional monarchy to become a republic in its own right, deep thoughts are taking place these days regarding a new constitution. For many interest groups, this moment is the perfect opportunity to participate in the rewriting of the national novel.
Among other demands, the cacique evokes the preservation of sacred sites, the recognition of certain spiritual practices and the ratification by the Jamaican government of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (2007), which would notably make it possible to protect certain areas. more sensitive ancestral ones. “Right now, there’s nothing stopping them from building a highway over our cemeteries,” Mr. Pairman said.
The cacique is aware that the Tainos are not a political priority for his government. But he has woven his web with other indigenous nations of the Americas, in addition to raising awareness of the UN and the Organization of American States (OAS) in his fight. This network of supporters and influences could put pressure on Jamaican leaders and induce them to consider certain demands, or at the very least establish “a form of dialogue” that can pave the way for results.
“If we get attention internationally, we will get attention locally and educate Jamaicans,” concludes Robert Pairman. We know it won’t happen overnight. It’s gonna take a lot of work. But we are patient. Our goal is to ensure the survival of our people for the next seven generations. We are planning for the long term…”